Can the Washington Redskins afford to keep free agent tight end Fred Davis? Then again, maybe they've already learned how to survive nicely without him.
The 2008 second rounder is a gifted playmaker who missed 13 games over two seasons with injuries and suspension. After paying Davis $5.4 million last season for seven games, the Redskins haven't yet franchised the unrestricted free agent for the second straight year because it would cost $6.5 million.
For a team enduring an $18 million salary cap sanction for the second straight year, the Redskins don't have the salary space to afford Davis. They might sign him for less, but Davis could find other buyers in free agency willing to gamble that he won't receive a one-year suspension for a second positive drug test and that his torn Achilles has fully healed.
It seems ludicrous that the Redskins would allow a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end to depart, but they won seven straight games without Davis and retooled the offense upon injured receiver Pierre Garcon's return. The team even used blocking end Logan Paulsen as a short-term receiving option.
Davis caught 24 passes for 325 yards in seven games before being placed on injured reserve. Paulsen caught 13 over three games before Garcon returned, then only 11 in the final seven games.
Garcon clearly changed the offense, and 36 of his 44 catches came while the Redskins finished with a seven-game win streak. Davis was forgotten while the team captured the NFC East title.
How badly do the Redskins really need Davis if they went 7-0 without him while receivers led the offense, not to mention running back Alfred Morris's team-record 1,613 yards?
Certainly the Redskins would like a quality tight end pass option, but Davis became expendable during that playoff run just like predecessor Chris Cooley, who was clearly a short-term sub in what was likely his final season.
The Redskins have long loved pass-catching tight ends. Cooley caught 420 passes from 2004-10 before missing 11 games because of injury in 2011, then got released and brought back in 2012 after Davis' injury to be a blocker. Cooley caught 70 or more passes in three seasons, including 83 in 2008. Davis caught 59 in 12 games in 2011 before suspended the final month. He seemed on course for another big year before the injury.
But Paulson's sudden switch away from downfield plays in favor of Garcon showed the Redskins' willingness to stop using tight ends as primary targets. Washington needs another blocker to protect quarterback Robert Griffin III whenever he returns anyway.
Davis seems like a luxury with multiple options, so it won't be surprising to see multiple bidders come free agency's March 12th start. If not for the salary cap sanction, the Redskins probably would have kept Davis. Instead, it's another reason for Washington fans to hate New York Giants owner John Mara for spearheading the penalty.